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October 28th, 2016

Changing technology allows Australia’s libraries to become community hubs

Along with books, many public libraries are already offering free internet access, job centre support, support for non-English speakers, youth training, retraining and small business start-up services 

Sydney, 27 October, 2016 – New research has shown us that our local library must be ready to embrace changing community needs. An in-depth survey into the value of libraries as public spaces undertaken by Civica and the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Public Policy and Governance (UTS:IPPG), found a very strong belief that libraries of the future will become community support centres. In many cases they will need to open for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The report entitled, “The intrinsic value of libraries as public spaces” was launched today at Civica Expo, by Roberta Ryan, Associate Professor and Director with UTS:IPPG. It is supported by Bollig Design Group, an architectural firm with significant experience of designing community spaces.

The survey canvassed the views of library managers, senior staff and senior local government managers across Australia and New Zealand. Respondents agreed that the book lined library focused on silent reading and studying is definitely a thing of the past.

“Libraries are changing and we must inform and educate the community about what they have to offer in the 21st century,” said Simon Jones, Managing Director of Civica Library & Education Solutions. “This research shows there is not only a need for change but there is also a strong appetite to continuously look for new ways and new models to better serve the desires of the community.”

According to the research, radical new approaches, such as the provision of facilities for business incubators in libraries will assist in the development of new businesses at a community level.  Just by simply offering free WiFi and computer services, libraries can give potential entrepreneurs the kick start that they need, but could not afford to obtain on the open market.

“The prospect of libraries open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which would in many cases be unmanned is already operating in several countries, including Sweden. It is likely that this model will be trialled in some Australian municipalities soon,” said Jones.

The future vision of a library, is of a one-stop-shop providing community support from unemployment assistance to health advice and to community learning and business development.

Although they have embraced the challenges of the digital age, librarians have not moved away from what they saw as their core responsibility, which is that of providing access to books and learning. However, they all agree that in the digital age there are new ways to offer these resources to many more people in the community. They stated that the core activities of providing access to literature and learning would remain the same, but that a raft of other activity would hinge from that core.

One of the respondents to the survey, Jan Richards, a manager of Central West Libraries in Orange, in NSW, commented that the library was a community resource which helped to reduce isolation for many and particularly those in rural and remote areas of Australia.

“Many of the people in rural areas were isolated by a lack of access to internet facilities. For these people, the digital revolution meant access to third world internet speeds.” said Jan. “The library definitely adds something to a person’s life; it adds to the experience, adds to the ability to perform tasks and adds to another layer, the experience of life.”

More than 77 per cent of the respondents stated that the use of free WiFi in libraries for general internet use was a vital offering of the modern library.

The respondents also stated that the provision of a library which offers more community based space helps to foster social cohesion and interaction and prevent social isolation.

“Our cities are becoming more densely populated, but at the same time, communities and individuals are feeling more and more isolated,” one survey participant said. “Public spaces provide areas for community to ‘come together’ in a shared space.”

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Report download: The intrinsic value of libraries as public spaces
This report looks at key issues which will need to be addressed to ensure libraries remain a central part of community life in a changing landscape.